In Need of New Temples

RCL- July 22, 2012 – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 7:1-14a with Psalm 89:20-37 or
Jeremiah 23:1-6 with Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

This has been a strange week for me and it even has a theme. The repeated topic of conversation has essentially been what it means to be Christian in an increasingly global, pluralistic, secularly focused world. The content shifted a bit depending on whether I was talking with colleagues, patients, or my spouse, but questions and opinions on being Christian today have been numerous these last few days. And, strangely (or maybe not so strangely), I find some answers in the Ephesians reading this week.

Before getting into this, though, l will say that I am decidedly Christian. I have even described myself as unapologetically Christian. However, this does not mean that I do not respect other faith traditions. In fact, I think it says just the opposite. If I can claim my Christianity without shame, then you can claim your Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism or whatever your tradition is with just as much integrity. From this standpoint the dialogue can begin. For me it isn’t a question of which faith is right or wrong. It is a question about what brings meaning, value, purpose, and fulfillment to a person’s life. If your faith tradition brings you peace and leads you to wholeness and harms no one, then I am all for it. In fact, I can probably learn something from you that will enhance my own faith practices.

But back to Ephesians and being Christian today. Although Ephesians addresses the differences between Jews and Gentiles who have become Christians, it says a lot about what it means to be Christian. Christ was about peace and ending hostility among those who worshiped him. Those early followers were to be united in their common faith, not divided by their earlier identity. This passage ends with these words:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

This description of all Christians being God’s holy temple and being a dwelling place for God is quite powerful. How has this failed to shape us in significant ways? If we all stopped arguing about what being a Christian really meant, and started living into this image of being the dwelling place of God, big changes would be made. Denominational identity, nationality, gender identity, economics, sexual orientation, and so many other things wouldn’t matter so much. The place were God lives, is where believers are. So many of our relationships (individual and communal)  are so filled with judgement and conflict, that there is no room for God to dwell in them. What happened to the understanding that Christ is our peace?

I hear and see so much hatred for and judgement about faith. Christians judge each other for being too liberal or too narrow-minded. Christians judge other faiths as being wrong in a variety of ways. Non-Christians judge Christians for being judgmental. We’ve all heard it. I’m just not sure where it all comes from. Or why it still happens today. If Christians took seriously the idea of together creating God’s temple, then judgement would become superfluous. Who is not welcome in God’s dwelling place? All who come in peace, no matter what name they call God, should be greeted with welcome and respect. It doesn’t make me a bad Christian to believe that the Holy One can be known in many ways, by many names. Is there a reason that all God’s dwelling places should be exactly the same?

Maybe we could focus our attention on things that really matter – like worsening drought conditions here in the U.S., war in Syria, violence in Bulgaria, or the giant iceberg that is floating off of Greenland – if we stopped worrying so much about other people’s faith and who has it right.

I am truly grateful for the love and healing I find in and through Christ and I’m happy to talk about it with any who ask. But if you have found a different path that leads you to love and healing, I will rejoice with you, not condemn you. We are in need of new temples today. Where will you begin building yours?

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